The consequences of comparison
What in retrospect has validated this exercise in comparative religions? Systematic comparison of the legal structures and categories of classical Judaism and Islam reveals remarkable similarities between the two religions. Each relies on written and oral texts which are believed to express the will or mind of God. The written texts were verbally revealed through prophets, while the oral texts contain material whose meaning, if not its exact words, is accorded the status of revelation because of its continuity with the sources of direct (verbal) revelation. Both religions therefore perceive themselves as historically continuous communities, directly linked through revelation and divine intervention to the original community of the divine covenant. Islam’s legal sciences display greater literacy than do those of Judaism. We do not have to abstract from practical cases the scholars’ mode of reasoning as we do in Judaism; Islam’s science of usul al-fiqh articulates its hermeneutical principles, including analogical reasoning and consensus. More highly developed literacy also accounts for greater emphasis on learning and intellectual prowess as criteria for entering the ranks of legal scholars in classical Islam than in Judaism. Judaism’s reliance on charismatic authority is characteristic of oral societies. Nevertheless, the nature and purpose of the court system in Judaism is virtually identical to that in Islam. In both cases, the courts are staffed by people who are thoroughly grounded in religious law and have jurisdiction over all aspects of life, and their purpose is to adjudicate divinely inspired law.
The similarity between Judaism and Islam is also revealed in a comparison of the actual categories constructed in the two traditions. Each legislates extensively concerning the individual’s and the community’s relationship with God. Laws about the details of prayer, both private and public; fasting, both individually and communally; and ablutions, are essential parts of both legal systems. Judaism and Islam both consider family matters—betrothal, marriage, divorce, and inheritance—to be important legal matters. Charity is also a matter of legal concern in both systems, as are commercial relations.